When I was just 10 years old, my father made the life-altering decision to move our family from Pasadena, California to Santa Margarita, California. Although it was only a distance of about 200 miles, it felt like we were traveling from the “Big City” to the “Wild West.” We drove past Santa Barbara, skirted the Los Padres National Forest, zipped by Santa Maria, and arrived at our destination. To say the least, I was not impressed.

My father, a contractor, had the big idea of creating a place where his family and friends could congregate on holidays and reunions, while simultaneously generating income to service and maintain the property. What looked to me like a ranch that needed a lot of work eventually grew into what is now a thriving business, Seven Oaks Ranch.

As I grew up on that ranch, I learned to appreciate the serenity of country life, and the magic of doing nothing, just sitting and listening to nature. The area only has about 1200 residents, but I eventually met some great friends, most of whom were Native Americans, and I felt fortunate to be immersed in a culture so different from my own.

Where is Santa Margarita, California?

Santa Margarita is located on California’s central coast, just north of San Luis Obispo, and in the southern foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The environment is clean and fresh, but the town easily mixes its rich historical narrative with modern-day luxuries. Within easy driving distance are beaches, bays, lakes, mountains and streams, as well as great wine and horse country. Even after traveling extensively, I still find this place to be one of my favorite places in the world.

The Long History of Santa Margarita

The roots of Santa Margarita are said to stretch as far back as 900 B.C. when Native Americans are first thought to have reached California’s central coast area. The first hints of European influence came with the arrival of Spanish explorers in the late 1700s. Using Native American labor, the Franciscan friars who came with these expeditions built several nearby missions including Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (eight miles south of Santa Margarita), its submission Santa Margarita de Cortona, and Mission San Miguel Arcangel (27 miles north of Santa Margarita). In fact, the 600 mile El Camino Real trail, which originally linked the 21 California Spanish missions, now serves as the city’s main street.

In the early 1800s, the Mexican government offered 35 land grants in the San Luis Obispo County area to soldiers who had fought for Mexico in its War of Independence. This led to the early formation of some of the area’s largest ranches. California became part of the United States, the Gold Rush brought new settlers, and the signing of the Land Act of 1851 all caused great changes to the make-up of Santa Margarita. By the late 1800s the railroads established a temporary terminal in Santa Margarita, bringing in an even wider variety of people.

Since these early days, the town has seen many ups and downs, but has always managed to retain its small-town charm. It now prides itself on being a quiet family community that is rich in history and adventure. Even as a 10-year-old boy, it didn’t take me long to discover that life on a ranch can be a very good thing.

Santa Margarita Today

Life if Santa Margarita today is a combination of the old and the new. Visitors can spend the morning horseback riding and then go for a zip line adventure in the afternoon. It’s a unique corner of California that offers a quiet retreat and outdoor excitement.

The Seven Oaks Ranch continues to offer plenty of activities for guests. In addition to exploring the mission trail, other local attractions include:

  • Santa Margarita Lake: With thousands of acres of unspoiled open space, this is a nature lover’s retreat. The park is home to countless species of plants and wildlife, making it the perfect location for nature study, hiking, biking, camping, boating, and fishing.
  • Wine Tours: This is wine country: Explore over 200 local vineyards including Ancient Peaks Winery, Vintage Cowboy Winery, and Soaring Hawk Vineyards.
  • The Barn Antiques and Unique: Find great collectibles and antiques, and local artisan crafts.
  • Rinconada Mine: The San Luis Obispo area was once dotted with mines. Hiking around some of the abandoned areas makes for a fun day of exploration.
  • Margarita Adventures: Features zipline tours, aerial adventures and nature/wildlife tours.
  • Shangri-La Ranch Horseback Adventures: Enjoy horseback riding into some of the most beautiful country on the Central Coast. Ride through sun-dappled forests, pristine meadows, and ancient rock formations. Some wildlife that can be spotted on these tours includes deer, bear, cougars, bald eagles, and all kinds of beautiful birds.
  • Hearst Castle: This National/California Historic Landmark was conceived by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan, and was built between 1919 and 1947.
  • Dining: Enjoy dining to satisfy every taste including Pozo Saloon, The Range, The Porch Café, and Rosalina.

Visit the shops of artists of all kinds in Santa Margarita, or take off for the beaches at Cayucos, Morro Bay, Avila and Pismo, just about 45 minutes away.

Let Santa Margarita Teach You About Ranch Life

I live in Santa Barbara now, and still like being a city guy, but some days I can’t stop thinking about Santa Margarita. It certainly contributed a lot to who I am today. It is the story of people working hard to live a good life, in a setting that is peaceful and inspiring.

Seven Oaks Ranch is still owned by my parents, and is now a popular vacation rental destination for family gatherings and weddings. Rolling hills covered with many trees of different varieties surround four seasonal ponds, and streams provide the opportunity to picnic or read a book under an oak giant that has been shading that spot for over 500 years. Visit the website, subscribe to the newsletter, and find out if you will come to appreciate ranch life as much as I did.

17 Responses

  • Looks absolutely beautiful. This reminds me of the show called the Dude Ranch when I was a kid. When I was a kid I always wanted to live on a ranch. Mainly for the peace from the city, I think being out in nature, especially around horses and such, is good for the soul. It’s healthy. Glad you had the opportunity to get an experience like this. Those are the kind of places that create memories for a lifetime.

  • What a beautiful home! While scrolling through your blog, I was instantly fascinated by the idea of growing up on a ranch; I grew up in a suburb, so somewhere in between the more rural spaciousness of your childhood and the bustling speed of the city. We used to have a small ranch nearby, and some of our neighbors still keep horses. I like to think that I experienced the best of both worlds, but as the ranches and open land have dissolved into urban sprawl, I felt like life’s started speeding by a little too quickly for me. Hopefully, we as a society will be able to find a balance between comfortable housing, good work, and the serene stillness of the outdoors.

  • Hello Taylor,

    Are you nuts? That’s the only reason I can come up with why you would give up living there and go to the city.

    Oh wait, growing up may have something to do with it. This was a nice little piece that was a bit informative on the area there and selling it to people.

    A nice thing to put in with all the lesson and business stuff. A nice destraction.

  • Hi Taylor,
    Your blog post has the useful writing form… Start out with a point, tell the story around that point, and then end bringing your reader back to your point.
    And that point seems to be the value of having grown up in rural natural surroundings. The appreciation of this type of surroundings can teach a kid grit and resiliency. It’s a hard lesson for our world to teach kids these days, but it is monumentally valuable. You sound like, growing up, you learned some valuable lessons from the ranch.
    Warm smiles,
    Elizabeth K

  • The title of this blog instantly attracted me, as I grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, and like hearing the stories of others who grew up in, as you call it, “The Wild West.” The pictures of the ranch, particularly the ones of the pond and dirt road, really take me back. I like that area of California too, and spent a couple of days their once touring local wineries and visiting the Hearst castle. As the pandemic continues to subside, my family and I are hoping to start traveling more again, and I think we might have to put this on our list as it would be a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.

  • Hello, Taylor,
    I would love to grow up on a ranch. Growing up in Alaska, I have always preferred the countryside. Northern California is such a huge change from city life—if not for the landscape then the people. From what I understand Santa Margarita was first inhabited by the Chumash Tribe 6,500 years ago, and there are still many stone artifacts scattered over the area called “lithic scatter.” I also have read that there are pictographs from original settlers that can be found in the area. Hearst castle is interesting. I had no idea it was located there. Supposedly, its world-famous pool is now open to guests.

  • A lot of us dream of a utopia away from our everyday stress. I think that while getting away and spending time somewhere peaceful and serene to wind down is alluring, we might take the time to think why we need that escape so badly. I think it might be a good time to reflect on where we are in life and how we can bring more tranquility into our everyday lives. Sometimes a peaceful getaway can open our eyes to what we have been missing this whole time. It sounds like you were missing the city! I’m glad you were able to find where you are the happiest.

  • I would have never guessed. It is a surprise to read that a marketing guru has roots in a dusty 1,500 person town. However, being able to separate from the hustle of the city can make you think outside of the box. Being away from the push of marketing can bring it into focus. I can only imagine the peace and quiet that the ranch has to offer. It reminds me that taking a vacation can be made simple. A weekend getaway to a southwest ranch could be just what a city girl needs!

  • I think 2020 proved more than anything the importance of being self-reliant. People need to be growing their own food, or at least have local connections to acquire the basic necessities when the supply chains break down or are interrupted. More people need the experience of working on farms and ranches to learn about how to cultivate the land and care for animals. The places you talked about sound like a fun way to introduce those concepts to those who’ve never dabbled in more nature-based activities before. I’m also interested in hearing about the skills you learned growing up on a ranch, and how they apply to your life in the city now. Any chance we might get a follow-up to this blog entry?

    ~Cory S.

  • I had a bit of the opposite experience. I grew up in a rural part of New Jersey, so horse farms and tractor rides were regular for me growing up. Then, I went to college in DC and had to adjust to city life. I’ve learned to appreciate both places, but I do, like you, believe there is much merit in getting out into nature. However, I think that cities like DC which have a lot of green spaces are the best of both worlds. Living in a rural area means long traveling to get to anywhere. Yet, living in DC has allowed me to walk nature trails, then go straight from there to a supermarket. I think the value of rural areas can actually carry over to how essential it is that we continue to make green spaces a strong point of our cities.

  • My husband is a all country man where as I’m a city girl, but the country life is truly enticing. We currently are in a city but on the outskirts, but have been thinking of finding land and a home. Your article truly peaked my interest on what true country/ranch life could be like. It’s simple and beautiful all rolled into one and even though you truly love the city the ability to still thrive in that environment wasn’t a struggle but a matter of simply being willing. I checked out the website for the ranch and it’s definitely been put on our future to do list!

  • Hey Taylor,

    Wow, that ranch looks amazing. Sometimes I often forget how large America is and what it all has to offer. Growing up on a ranch sure does sound exciting. I’m from a big city, but like you, moved to a smaller town when I was younger. It’s definitely a culture shock and takes time to get used to. And as someone who loves wine, Santa Margarita sounds like a great place to visit, especially with their wine tours. This sounds like a great vacation or weekend getaway spot and I’m jealous you grew up in such a nice area LOL.

  • Taylor, thank you so much for sharing this piece. As someone who has lived in major cities for a good majority of my life, I can appreciate the quiet and calm that the countryside can offer. The calm and serene environment forces you to appreciate nature. I would love to see this ranch someday when I have more time to travel. I am originally from San Francisco, CA and it never ceases to amaze me with how many gems the state has to offer. After living in so many different major cities, I prefer the “Wild West” over the “Big City”!

  • I actually have a trip to Santa Margarita on my bucket list! For many years now, I have been researching the Hearst Family and wanted to take a road trip to visit the Hearst Castle. It’s really cool that you grew up in this region, which is also known for some great wines! Now that I read this post, I really want to make that trip happen sooner rather than later. I’m more of a city gal, but this area sounds fantastic, and I bet you thoroughly enjoyed life on that ranch!

  • Hello,

    I consider myself as a city girl since I spent three quarters of my life living in the metro. Being in the city has its own set of perks but as I grew older I realized that I’m looking for a place that’s more quiet and relaxing just like how you described the ranch. I haven’t been to a lot of ranches and one of my goals is to visit California to enjoy wine tasting and dining out on some of the restaurants that you mentioned.

    Unfortunately the pandemic is one of reasons why travelling has been restricted in many places. But I’m definitely looking forward into getting a first hand experience on what ranch life is all about. I hope that you can continue writing these kind of feature articles so I would have more ideas on what to add on my bucket list.

  • Wow that’s such a pretty place to grow up! Seems like it would be a very neat place to visit. When people think of California I’m sure Los Angles and Hollywood, so I bet some people would be surprised that something like this is in Cali. I’m glad you included the history of the area! There’s some details in there that I feel like lot of people would skip over in lieu of making things look good. I’m not to outdoorsy myself, but even I see the appeal of staying in a place like this, since it gets you close to seeing the beauty of nature!

  • Very lovely place!

    The way you describe the ranch makes me want to go there, I’ve always been a farm person, so I would definitely enjoy this. I want to bring my family here for a weekend getaway!

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